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This is such a great piece, Jack. It is possible that we are meant to be finding 'the stillness within movement', by being urban hermits... In solidarity, Caro.

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Jan 14Liked by Jack Leahy

"In the dark times

will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing.

About the dark times."

Bertold Brecht, as far as I can recall. Such dark singing there will be. What there will not be, however, is a privatised, fully-automated, luxury, made-to-measure salvation.

Glad to have you back, Jack.

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Jan 15Liked by Jack Leahy

Thanks for this Jack really appreciate it. Just turned 45 years old there and all I feel is emptiness, that life has become just the same shit just another day, you just get up and go through the same routine on a daily basis, the same meaningless, pointless nonsense, and I just know that something needs to change, or rather something in me needs to change, and I know there is a lot of baggage within me that needs to be off loaded, because I know my brokenness, my darkness, my demons which I need to face, need to encounter, in all honesty I don't particularly like myself overly much, and some of thoughts I think reveal to me that darkness that abides within me, though on the surface you create this fiction that all is well, personally I just feel like a fiction, I think I lost myself a long time ago, and I need to go and find some semblance of myself that is otherwise than the current me, and it makes sense the best way is to encounter this lost self is through stillness, to delve deep into my interior self and hopefully peel of the many layers of this false self so vistas can open up for a new self to emerge. I know this is not a quick fix, and I have like yourself seen through the falseness of what the surrounding world has to offer, and this is part of the problem, because what the world offers I have no desire for, because it's superficial, fake, empty like me, so I need to get away from the distractions of the world to look for what really matters which is the eternal, which is the God who is closer to me than I am to myself, because that is the only place, if you can call it a place, where I will find rest.

I just started reading there Martin Laird's, into the silent land, hopefully that will give me a means to take that first step on to this contemplative path of stillness and hopefully to find some kind of light in the midst of my inner darkness.

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Jan 14·edited Jan 14Liked by Jack Leahy

Thank you, Jack.

I have been what one might term an admirer of contemplation for several years now, largely because of two things: (i) exposure to the writings of proponents of contemplative practice (including but not limited to Merton); and (ii) my own growing sense of the distractedness and disenchantment that pervades the world around me, and that therefore necessarily permeates my own being.

At some point I need to stop being a distant observer and admirer and start being a practitioner. I know I need to; I sort of want to (or at least some not insignificant part of me wants to); yet something, or some constellation of things, holds me back. What is it? The belief that I don't have the time needed (at least not without giving up something else I might not want to give up)? A dislike of the idea of stepping out into something which I can barely know and understand, let alone map out, navigate in an ordered way, and control? Downright fear? All of the above, and probably much more besides.

(BTW, my name is Rob. Grays Boron, which happens to be an anagram of my name, is a rather silly moniker I at some point decided to use to protect my identity when lurking and occasionally interacting on Substack. I don't really know what made me think my identity might have needed protecting. I suppose I could edit my account details and go by my real name, but I've sort of got used to this rather silly fake name.)

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Jan 14Liked by Jack Leahy

I can say, with some certainty, that Zen saved my life. I learned how to sit with very hard truths and my worst fears. I intensely practiced with an urban community for 10 years and quietly flirted with ordaining as a monk. Once I found out that was not my path, I needed to take some time off. I spent the next 10 years digesting, but also started a farmstead, married, had a child, and was trying to sort out a strange call to Christ. My practice these days is very meager in comparison to my Zen days. I have found a church that I love but I am walking blindly in a new path. Its all very unimpressive. I wonder if i should be doing more, should be Orthodox, should be trying a little harder to overcome my resistance to prayer and my shortcomings. Should the farm go off-grid? Should I never go online? Should I stop reading this (and all) substack? Oddly, there is a quietness in my meagerness. There is some real need in all of these things for the time being, I just can't quite sort them out right now. Time is short and I am sure to fail. Somehow it all feels alright. I appreciate your writing. God bless.

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Jan 13·edited Jan 13Liked by Jack Leahy

Beautifully written. The practice of hesychasm is more important and necessary more than ever in the modern West. I appreciate your passionate defense of solitude and contemplative prayer.

Have you read any of Hieromonk Gabriel's writing? He writes here about the unbelief of modern churches, which I see as a bit of a companion piece to this. Albeit a bit harsher. https://www.rememberingsion.com/p/what-modern-churches-are-missing

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Jan 13Liked by Jack Leahy

Thank you for the reminder. Reading great and profound works by the Saints that have gone before us, while certainly invaluable, can set the bar of my expectations frightfully high. Not unlike watching a Bruce Lee movie and deciding to sign up for a martial arts course. “What do you mean you aren’t going to teach me how to do a flying dragon kick? I have to stand here in this awkward position, that’s causing muscles I didn’t even know I had to scream in agony, for several minutes at a time over the next 6 months?! This isn’t what I signed up for!”

I’m starting out on step 1 of the journey of a thousand miles and it’s never like the books! It’s at turns painful, boring, frustrating and sometimes downright agonizing. But every once in a while, a ray of light pierces the seemingly impenetrable fog letting me know I’m heading the right the right way. Lord have mercy.

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Jan 26Liked by Jack Leahy

Hi, Jack, as a pentecostalish, New Testament centered type the God of the contemplative systems feels like an endlessly receding horizon, not the warm immediacy of the Holy Spirit ‘the Lord, the giver of life - “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” Romans 5:5 plus a flood of other verse OT and NT. Through Jesus our bodies become temples of the Spirit of God and this Elephant in our individual room is to be quite tangibly evident as seen in the NT. I suggest you study and grapple with the foundational writings and not later mystical writings as they are often infected with that Neoplatonic tinge that crept into Christianity giving us the remote apophatic god of the philosophers whose access you earn by a system of purgation, illumination, and union and not the accessible personal, loving, living God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” It is a shameless, free undeserved gift given to the weak and sinful. Enjoy!

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Thanks Jack and everyone for this serious discussion. The quote from Luke, ‘Kingdom of Heaven / God is within’, somehow made sense when I first heard it aged circa 10-12 and already something of a sceptic of received wisdoms. Old age does not bring me any closer to exegesis, but the ‘poetic’ truth characteristic of Jesus, parables and all, beckons. The historical context and translations reviewed by scholar Geza Vermes (1) nevertheless could be relevant. Vermes has also flagged up the unusual stress laid on the childlike attitude toward God: “Neither biblical nor post-biblical Judaism make of the young an object of admiration. The elderly wise man is the biblical ideal.” This has made me wonder about other wisdom traditions and the search for ‘authority’? I am still contemplating these matters. Smile. Broadly, like other creatures we are evolved in context, and if human history follows a road it occurs to me these could be way markers, something of the ‘telos’ for our purpose, if we can remember who we are (2)

PS I have been trotting along with Martin Shaw, ‘Beasts & Vines’, who tells it in stories of us and our fellow creatures.

1) Geza Vermes 'Christian Beginnings', 2012

2) Review of Jeremy Naydler ‘ The Struggle for a Human Future’, 2020; my substack

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Nice piece Jack. I was raised as a Christian by parents who hade very different ideas re. what that actually means and thus I went (or was dragged ) to two very different Churches. Conflicted or what! I fled from 'religion' at the first opportunity but then I discovered meditation about 27 years ago aged 28 and subsequently i have sat many Buddhist meditation retreats - and some other stuff along the way. I would now consider myself Christian by upbringing and Buddhist by practice but ultimately I suspect the (the?) contemplative insight is essentially the same irrespective of the path. At the very least there is much common ground. As you say soul work can be such hard work at times and that is unavoidable grist for the mill. I also think your point about integrating and sourcing such insights into and out of the here and now - the messiness of one's everyday, lived experience - is absolutely crucial. Thanks for sharing the common ground in simple and honest language.

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founding

Thanks, Jack. I retired to bed last night, irritable with striving. Today, the title and subtitle of your piece elicited a chuckle and the body of the essay a balm. It reminded me of a quote from Boethius I reflect upon often:

Cast off joy and fear - fly from hope and sorrow. These things cloud the mind and bind us to the earth.

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Jan 14Liked by Jack Leahy

I'm glad you're back! Escaping the noise of our consumerist culture is difficult, as you note. And yes, stepping away and facing ourselves (not to mention the Divine!) is something we aren't used to and can definitely be an overpowering experience! Please keep sharing as your journey is inspiring to me, and I'm sure to many others.

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Beautiful writing, Jack. Thank you for your honesty and humility which helps us look more courageously at ourselves.

As for that “abyss” .

You reminded me of a dream I had ten years ago. I was swinging East-west from a long steel cable over an abyss and crashing into the rock ledges on both sides.

Knowing the futility of this , I made a circle with my body until reaching a north point -an outcropping of rock w a copper cable. I climbed out into a grassy knoll. In the distance I saw a man in a white robe . We walked toward one another. I fell into his cloud-like satiny arms and he said “I have been waiting a long time for you”!

Since then my life has gotten a lot harder but I know He is with me .

Contemplation is hard work but we must face the “void”. I love your stories , thank you so much . Keep on keeping on .

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Jan 13Liked by Jack Leahy

Speaking of the kingdom of God which we are to seek - Jesus said “fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” And the only place in the New Testament where the kingdom of God is explicitly defined is Romans 14:17 where it is called “rightwiseness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” rightwiseness is the old English form of ‘righteousness’, the word used in the first English translation. Yes, quoting William Blake “and round the tent of God like lambs we joy”. It is all gift. For the “gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

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Jan 13Liked by Jack Leahy

This is so different from the accessible, freely given, joyous, “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:2 I meet in my life, in my body, and in the words of the saints in the New Testament, Psalms and other parts of the Bible, the Spirit of God that has me often dance before the Father in secret and in public.

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Thank you, Jack. This spoke to me in a time in my life where I needed this.

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